Rafael: Manchester United's unsung hero
Manchester United right-back Rafael played a key role in the team's success last season
Manchester United recently won their 20th English league title, etching its name in the history books forever.
One of the players who made this possible but did not get the credit he deserved was right-back Rafael.
Manchester United had struggled to find a decent right-back to fill the vacancy left by Gary Neville’s retirement, but Rafael stepped into his shoes perfectly last season.
Always retreating into his position whenever his team loses the ball, and never losing his marker, Rafael showed tremendous levels of stamina.
With Sir Alex Ferguson usually preferring a rotation policy to keep his players fit for all competitions, Rafael was the only outfield player to make so many appearances and play the full 90 minutes as well.
He was also a threat while attacking, and his stunning strike against QPR will still be fresh in every Manchester United fan’s mind.
But above all, he made up for the lacklustre display of United’s wingers last season. With Antonio Valencia and Nani both having a dip in form, it was Rafael’s runs across the right flank which caused big problems for the opposition.
His absence was felt when he missed some games due to his hamstring injury. His replacements - i.e. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones - could not make the same runs forward nor put in the same crosses like Rafael did, which meant that United’s attacks lacked that killer instinct.
But he has not been given the credit he deserves. His Manchester rival Pablo Zabaleta is still regarded as the better right-back in Manchester. He also hasn’t been able to make it into the national side with Dani Alves holding the right-back spot.
But Rafael is still young, and has a lot to learn. With the signing of Guillermo Varela, he will have added competition for his place in the squad. But going by his past records, he’ll be up for the challenge.
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